I shouldn’t have to convince you that investing in a social media for your company is worth it; even in light of Facebook’s recent data breach, we are so reliant upon our social profiles for real human interaction that leaving them is not a real option. In fact, the below statistics from Pew Research Center’s 2018 Social Media Use Survey indicate that we’re not going to give up our social media profiles any time soon.
Humans are social creatures. It makes sense that we love being on social networking sites. We crave interaction with fellow humans. We’re also highly likely to trust the recommendations of our friends and family (Nielsen) and those recommendations often influence our purchasing decisions. We ask our loved ones for advice on where to put our dollars in myriad ways, all at different price points:
- What coffee shop do you like to go to?
- Which mascara is that?
- What are you reading right now?
- Where’d you get that tie?
- What neighborhoods are you looking to move to?
- What schools are you looking to send Anna to?
Yes, those same searches occur online. They also frequently occur in tandem with testimonials from the people in our lives (depending on how thorough we want or need to be).
So if you have a thing that you want to sell to a group of people and you’re still not pursuing a social strategy, I don’t understand what you’re doing. Yes, it’s 2018 and I still find myself trying to persuade clients to proactively use (the right) social networks to promote their brand.
For the sake of this piece, we’re going to focus on organic usage (read: free, not paid advertising) of Instagram. Why just Instagram? 35% of US adults say they use Instagram as of 2018, up from 28% in 2016. This was the greatest growth across top social networking sites reported by Pew Research Center. Additionally, its 35% usage puts it at the third most popular social networking platform, behind only Facebook and YouTube.
Other good news? It may be easier for brands’ posts to appear in users’ Instagram feeds than on their Facebook feeds: Facebook still wants to prioritize your family, friends and groups, while The New York Times reports that Instagram is updating its algorithm to favor newer posts rather than limit the accounts in your feed.
So should every brand have an Instagram? Maybe? But notice I’ve been primarily using the word “brand,” not “company” or “business.” That’s deliberate. Companies (only) provide customers with a service or sell a product. Brands provide customers (followers) with an identity. (If you want to dive further into this, I highly recommend this presentation by former Distiller Hannah Smith.)
The best companies are brands: they’ve got identities with which consumers align themselves. We become loyal to them. We may even use the brands we purchase from and follow as self identifiers to other people (“I’m a Joe & the Juice kind of guy, but not Starbucks,” “I never use MAC, only NARS,” “Me, shop at Banana Republic?! I only go to Everlane!”). Not every company should be on Instagram — it doesn’t make much sense for B2Bs to invest time and energy into building their company’s presence on Instagram.
Instagram is not for your consulting firm. And probably not for your SaaS company, either (but prove me wrong)!
It’s for celebrities. It’s to show off your enviable trip. It’s for fashion blogs. Sneakerheads. Memes. Art. Beauty brands. It’s really great for beauty brands. Why? Instagram is obviously great for sharing pretty photos — and if you’re a beauty company, well, it’s a no-brainer that you should have an active account. And it also has incredible built-in features to organically promote your posts, engage customers, and sell products with actual links to those products on your photos.
So, if you’re going to use Instagram, do it right. If you want to do it right, do it like a beauty brand.
First things first: Why do beauty companies’ IG posts look better?
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: each account features beautiful models, pretty sceneries, and cosmetics in clean packaging. That said, it’s not just the subject of the IG photos that matters: each of these IG accounts’ photos have been curated and edited together, so that their photos look cohesive when you view them in IG’s grid format. How do they do that? Let’s look at three posts from these accounts.
It’s hard (for me) to pick apart precisely why these photos are aesthetically pleasing — and it doesn’t help that I’m neither a photographer, nor a designer. That said, here is my rudimentary, non-designer take on why these photos look great together:
#1: Their subjects are beautiful (duh)
#2: There are limited primary focal points, and tons of negative space (though the medicine cabinet and floral arrangement photos are arguably “busy”)
#3: Their hues are complementary (pinky-pearlescent-pastels, anyone?)
There’s a lot of pink. And white. And pastels. And more pink. And then, occasionally, pops of color (think: a new violet lipstick shade).
Color schemes remain consistent across Onomie’s, Milk’s, and Glossier’s photos — these beauty brands don’t suddenly change their color palettes from one photo to the next. In fact, they are most likely implementing the same Instagram filters for each photo, or at least editing the color balances so that the photos complement each other. They are deliberately catering to Instagram’s 3×3 grid photo format (or 3×4, or 3×5, depending on your screen size). While many users do see IG posts in their “feeds” when they open the app, users are still motivated to look at IG accounts’ for a number of reasons: IG profiles are the only place where you can add hyperlinks on Instagram, and is also where accounts can pin stories for users to revisit.
But how on earth do they do it? They may have professional photographers, or graphic designers they can beg to normalize their color balances across photos. However, I don’t think that most companies necessarily need this mastery in-house in order to have an Instagram profile that looks good to mere mortals.
What I can assure you is that they plan, plan, plan out their posts in advance. In order to do this effectively, of course, you need the right tools. Here’s your starter pack of IG apps:
- Freemium phone app
- Enables you to edit photos like a master — VSCO goes way beyond a small set of filters
- Has its own community and image feed within the app, separate from IG
- VSCO can’t post directly to IG (yet), but you can easily download any edited photo
- Freemium desktop tool and phone app
- Can visualize your photos in a grid format with your other IG photos
- Built-in analytics
- Can schedule and post directly to IG, with captions and hashtags
- Offers some photo editing tools
- Can drag and drop photos to plan out how they will appear alongside your other uploads, in grid format
- Can post to IG, but no scheduling features
This may sound like a lot of work, and for non-designers in particular it’s pretty challenging. That said, the fruits of your labor can be used again and again. In fact, that’s precisely what these beauty brands do on IG: if they’re featuring a product (again, hello lipstick shades), they show off that product’s different colors, on different skintones. Basically, rinse and repeat with your IG photos: this repetition is great for those with sparse content calendars, and still looks great.
Okay, but they’re not popular just because of their looks, right? Why are beauty brands on IG so damn popular?
Yes, looks matter. IG is a visual platform. Sorry not sorry. And yes, we’re talking about beauty brands that have budgets to advertise their accounts and products on IG, which also contributes to their popularity. However, that’s not the whole story.
They use hashtags and photo tags.
Just like on Twitter (and Facebook, to a degree), hashtags are a natural way to boost exposure and get “discovered.” That’s largely because IG users can also follow hashtags, in the same manner as following a handle. And, just like on Twitter, it matters which hashtags you use. IG also allows users to add up to 30 hashtags per post — and yes, this can look spammy, but if you’re using IG like a beauty brand, you’ll separate your caption from your hashtags with periods-used-as-line-breaks or as a separate comment after you post.
So, where should you begin hunting for hashtags? Unfortunately, the Cambridge Analytica debacle has extended to Facebook’s other properties, including Instagram. It seems like one direct response to this is to limit the number of API calls we can make of IG. This means awesome services like websta.me can’t serve up the same amount of information around hashtags as they once did.
That said, Tagboard is one option for content and social media marketers to use. I like to use it to suss out hashtag intent (in answering whether this the right hashtag to use for this post). *Readers: if you’ve got tools you love to find hashtags on IG, add them in the comments below for us, please!
Otherwise, your best bet (as far as I know) is to search for hashtags directly in Instagram’s Discover area, under Tags. There, you can see how many times those hashtags have been used (what’s popular?) and then click through to see what photos have been tagged.
Beauty brands also take advantage of photo tagging on their posts when they can: if they are featuring a celebrity (like the magnificent Tracee Ellis Ross), they can tag her IG directly onto this post. Not only does this let Tracee (or, more likely, her social media manager) know, but depending on her settings this photo now shows up under her tagged photos on her profile — for her fans to discover.
Similarly, if you’re a business selling products and you’ve been approved for shopping on IG, you can also tag your products in your photos so that users can click through directly to their product pages. This is a no-brainer. Just do it.
They talk to their followers.
We already know that it’s best practice to engage and respond to followers on social media (within reason), and IG is no different. Onomie, Milk and Glossier all have downright spirited conversations in their photos’ comments sections by prompt fellow ‘grammers to participate in a few ways. They:
- Host contests for product giveaways, which is an easy way to grow their followers on Instagram while also attracting new, potential customers.
- Ask their followers questions (“which are your faves?”) or simply prompt them to react to a photo (using emojis in the comments).
- Share company and product news with their followers, and also answer questions their followers pose in response to that news.
They add stories.
IG’s “Stories” feature is another great tool that Onomie, Milk, and Glossier all use. They’re like IG posts, but ephemeral (they only last 24 hours) and do not live in your main feed: users can access these stories from the top of their IG feeds, and from the account’s main icon. In some cases — especially brands selling products — these accounts may choose to “pin” evergreen stories to their IG profiles, so that users can access them beyond the 24-hour lifespan.
Stories are an excellent way to gather additional insights from followers (outside of comments) because you can run polls (with clickable elements) to collect simple data (“Should our next product help alleviate dry or oily skin?”). What’s more is that, depending on users’ notification preferences, stories automatically push notifications to followers’ phone screens. This means that even if a user is not using the app, they will be notified of new, temporary content.
If your brand (or your client) isn’t taking advantage of IG’s great marketing tools, it’s time to stop waiting and get ‘gramming. Especially if your target audiences are using the platform, there is no reason not to test out all the ways it allows you to engage its community.